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Speech to launch the Australian Law Reform Commission's report on privacy.

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Speech by Senator The Hon John Faulkner Cabinet Secretary Special Minister of State

11 August 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, Labor took a comprehensive integrity of government agenda to last year’s election.

In the new Federal Government, for the first time, many integrity and governance functions are brought together under a single Minister - FOI, public service administration, codes of conduct, the register for lobbyists, transparency, accountability, electoral law, the guidelines and administration of tax-payer funded entitlements, government advertising and the National archives.

This includes privacy. Australians’ confidence in the security and release of their personal information is part of the Government’s program to restore faith and trust in the integrity of government. Privacy policy dovetails with Freedom of Information policy, and the Government is committed to a coherent approach to the different aspects of information management in both the public and private sectors.

This important ALRC report is a key part of our approach to this issue.

Of course, it’s worth remembering in this 20th Anniversary year of the Privacy Act the role that the ALRC’s first privacy inquiry played in the formation of that legislation. Beginning in 1976, that seven year inquiry resulted in a three volume report handed to the Attorney General in 1983.

In that report, the ALRC recommended the adoption of the Information Privacy Principles (IPPs) to regulate the handling of personal information by the Commonwealth public sector. These IPPs drew heavily on the OECD Guidelines, and their subsequent enactment in the Privacy Act also ensured Australia met its obligations under the OECD Guidelines.

Another significant recommendation of the ALRC in 1983 was the establishment of the Privacy Commissioner to be the regulator of privacy, which was also implemented in the Privacy Act 1988.

In 2000 the then Government introduced the National Privacy Principles (NPPs) which extended regulation of the handling of personal information to the private sector (subject to certain exemptions such as the small business exemption). This was an important step in the development of privacy protection in Australia. By extending the Privacy Act to the private sector it ensured that privacy became an integral part of an organisation’s day to day transaction with customers and recognised that privacy was not just a matter for the public sector.

In 2005 both the Privacy Commissioner (in a review of the private sector provisions of the Privacy Act) and the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee recommended a comprehensive review of privacy regulation. In response to these recommendations the then Government asked the ALRC to undertake an inquiry into privacy regulation in Australia.

Speech to Launch the Australian Law Reform Commission's Report on Privacy

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On 30 January 2006, the then Attorney-General asked the ALRC to conduct an inquiry into the extent to which the Privacy Act and related laws continue to provide an effective framework for the protection of privacy in Australia.

Through the inquiry the ALRC published two issues papers in 2006 and a three volume discussion paper in September 2007.

The ALRC undertook its largest ever consultation program:

z Conducting 250 meetings with individuals, public sector agencies, private organisations,

community groups and peak associations;

z Major public forums in Melbourne, Sydney and Coffs Harbour;

z Six workshops for children and young people;

z A series of roundtables with individuals, agencies and organisations on a variety of themes;

z 1,300 calls to the ‘National Privacy Phone-In’ where members of the public could contact the

ALRC to share their experiences, ideas and attitudes about privacy protection;

z The establishment of the ‘Talking Privacy’ website, designed to appeal to young people.

The ALRC received 585 submissions from individuals, organisations and federal, state and territory government agencies.

The inquiry took 28 months.

The report itself is three volumes, containing 74 Chapters and 295 Recommendations for reform.

The effort involved has been tremendous, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the ALRC and congratulate them on the outcome.

The ball is now in the Government’s court.

The size and complexity of the report require some ‘thinking time’ from the Government. At this stage, it is too early for me to indicate to you specifics of the Government’s response to individual issues.

However, I can today tell you that, given the large number of recommendations made in the report, I believe that an attempt to develop a single Government response to the entire report would result in a significant delay in implementing long awaited reforms to the Act. For this reason, the

Government will consider the report in two stages to target specific priority issues.

The first stage of the response will focus on the recommendations relating to the unified privacy principles (UPPs), health and credit reporting regulations and improving education about the impact on privacy by new technologies.

Any reform involving the UPPs will have a significant effect on the way the Privacy Act works. They are the building blocks of privacy reform, which is why they are part of the first stage of the reform process.

The recommendations relating to the protection of health information and credit reporting will be addressed alongside the UPPs as these issues interact directly with the recommendations on the UPPs, as well as having been identified as priority issues by stakeholders and agencies. Dealing with them at an early stage is also consistent with COAG’s current agenda on health and consumer credit reform.

In this first stage the Government will also consider the recommendations relating to the interactions of privacy with new technologies, recommendations which go to the question of the effectiveness of Privacy Act in light of 21st century technologies and the increasing ability to transfer personal information.

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We will be in close contact with all interested stakeholders about the consultation process as matters arise for consideration. The details of the consultation process will be available in due course.

I expect that the Government will be able to legislate (as necessary) on this first reform stage within 12 to 18 months.

The second stage of the response will consider the remaining recommendations, including those relating to the removal of exemptions and data breach notices. Given the complexity and sensitivity of these questions, it makes more sense to consider them after the first stage, the building blocks, have been dealt with.

This is of course not an exhaustive list of the recommendations made by the ALRC. Across-the-board recommendations such as the harmonisation of Privacy laws and suggestions for reform to the structure and powers of the Privacy Commissioner will be considered by the Government in

concert with the two stages of reform I have already outlined.

It’s my job to now officially ‘launch’ this publication, and I do so with great pleasure.

Last Updated: 14 August, 2008

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